08 December 2011

Does John Cooney Want An Apology From Ronan Fanning?

I realise two posts in one day may seem a bit extravagant, but given how I've read that John Cooney's looking for an apology from Cardinal Connell for the then Archbishop of Dublin having rubbished the more lurid claims in Cooney's 1999 biography of Connell's predecessor, John Charles McQuaid, I think it's worth pointing out that Cardinal Connell was hardly alone in doing so.

Here, for instance, you can see how Ronan Fanning, then Professor of Modern Irish History in UCD, began a review of Cooney's book the following year:
'No work of Irish historical scholarship has been launched with such a sensationalist fanfare as John Cooney's long-awaited biography of John Charles McQuaid. It therefore comes as little surprise that the author's journalistic instinct to prefer the sensational sexually-charged interpretation to the dispassionate presentation of objective historical truth intermittently flaws what is otherwise a fine book.

The most outragerous example is the now notorious account of Dr McQuaid's alleged paedophile encounter with a publican's son in Drumcondra which formed the first of the extracts serialized in The Sunday Times. Mr Cooney adduces absolutely no evidence for his allegation beyond a piece of fiction cast as fantasy entitled "A Virgin Island", which was written by Dr Noel Browne and based upon the hearsay evidence of an unnamed Department of Education inspector concerning an episode which had allegedly taken place thirty years before. Although Dr Browne must be regarded as a hostile witness -- McQuaid had effectively destroyed his Ministerial career during the Mother and Child controversy in 1951 and his own autobiography is charged with bitter animosity towards his former adversary -- Browne himself believed that "A Virgin island" should not be published for the compelling reason that the allegations could not be substantiated. It would have been better for Mr Cooney's reputation as biographer and historian if he had respected Dr Browne's wishes.

Another example of how Mr Cooney's historical judgement has vitiated by his weakness for the sensational occurs in the introduction in a series of gratuitous references to instances of the sexual abuse of children by priests who served in the Dublin archdiocese and to the sexual and physical abuse of orphans in Artane and Goldenbridge. Again, Dr McQuaid is smeared by association without any evidence being adduced; that he was Archbishop when these terrible things happened in the Dublin archdiocese is, apparently, evidence enough.

Yet these and other passages in which Mr Cooney indulges his propensity for sexual interpretation take up only a very small proportion of his book and it would be a pity if would-be readers were deterred for the salaciousness which has surrounded its publication. For this is a book which should be read by all who have an interest in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland or of church-state relations since independence.

The present Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell, placed all historians in his debt when he realised the extraordinarily rich archive of the McQuaid papers -- not the least of the damage done by the sleazy controversy triggered by the Sunday Times is that his less enlightened and more timorous episcopal colleagues will scarcely be encouraged to follow his example -- and Mr Cooney is the first to publish the fruits of his labours in such a bounteous vineyard.'
Onward Fanning goes, commending Cooney's otherwise comprehensive analysis of McQuaid's reign. It's significant that Fanning has no problem in general with Cooney putting the boot into McQuaid; his concern is purely due to the sensationalist and blatantly ahistorical nature of Cooney's allegations of paedophilia. 

As I've said, if Cooney turns out to have been right on this, he's only right by accident. In the meantime he should either seek apologies from rather more people than Cardinal Connell, or should have the good grace to keep silent. 

I see, incidentally, that the matters raised about McQuaid have indeed been passed on to the Guards. This, of course, is line with the practice of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I've no idea why the Commission omitted this. Given that the Guards are already looking into the matter and will doubtless be in possession of the facts, One in Four's call for a statutory inquiry looks both redundant and hysterical.

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